In Search of Meaning (Viktor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning Review)

Siim Land

You and I – we’re all conscious. Our own existence is something which we can’t doubt about. But what does it all mean? Viktor Frankl says in his book Man’s Search for Meaning that us humans are capable of creating that meaning ourselves. His story is just so horrifying yet inspiring at the same time but it reveals to us the immense power of perceiving and re-framing our own reality that’s hidden within all of us.

Viktor Frankl
Man’s Search for Meaning

Frankl was a Jewish psychiatrist in Germany and during the Second World War, he was sent to Auschwitz where he spent 3 long years of drudgery. There he endured countless dreadful sufferings and ordeals. Despite all of that, he came out of the imprisonment alive and changed the rest of his life for good.

Because he was a psychiatrist, and being the kind of Sherlock Holmes he was, Frankl noticed that some prisoners, like himself, managed to deal with the given situation a lot better than others. He realized that the human condition enabled them to adapt to anything they came across. They were so close to hell as ever possible but despite that, there were a significant amount of people who did not break.

Most prisoners couldn’t cope with reality. They saw their destiny as pre-determined and thus soon died while there were others who remained indomitable in the face of resistance. What’s up with that?

What Distinguished the Survivors From the Fallen?

Frankl discovered that it had to do with how they interpreted their situations. Most importantly, how they thought that all their sufferings must’ve had some sort of a meaning.

There wasn’t…I mean…there is no justification to kill children, women, elders and men of all ages – to torture them, starve them, enslave them, to humiliate them. But for Frankl and the prisoners there was. Behind all that torture was a greater meaning because they themselves created it there.

You might think: “Ignorant fools…How can you be so naïve? Obviously, the thing was wrong.” But you’re mistaken. Such a mindset allowed them to accomplish nothing short of the impossible, although we’re all capable of achieving the same thing. With that kind of a mentality, they could re-frame how they experienced their suffering.

  • Instead of being famished, they found new strength to continue
  • Instead of thinking: “Why ME?” they thought: “Thank god it’s me,” Thank god it’s me and not my loved ones.
  • Instead of being defeated, they became victorious.

Searching for Meaning

Another essential aspect to it was how the prisoner envisioned their future and how the absorbed meaning from their vision in the particular present moment.

  • The moment when they were carrying big rocks for hours upon end through mud and torture while having had eaten just a few bowls of soup over the last few weeks.
  • The moment when the guards were beating them with their breeches and making the prisoners fight between each other.
  • The moment they were cast into icy dungeons on the frozen stone floor.
  • The moment they could, despite all of that, still look up to the sky and be grateful for the warm ray of sun that soon disappeared again.


Free Will to Choose

Every prisoner’s reaction depended on how they had thus far associated their situation, but a lot more important was the opportunity for free will. Free will which we all possess, even in torture.

Eventually, after Frankl had emerged from hell alive, he continued his work as a psychiatrist and created his own method called ‘logotherapy.’ At the core of his theory is the belief that the primary motivating power of man is the search for meaning or a purpose and the therapeutists job is to help find it.

Despite Auschwitz, despite the years of horror and slavery, Frankl still lived until 92 and died at 1997. How tough do you have to be to pull off something like that?

Lessons Learned
From Man’s Search for Meaning

There’s just so much to learn from this story that I don’t even know where to begin.

  • First, we have to understand how god damn lucky we are. I mean, we live in an age where mankind is more abundant than ever before. There are so many opportunities.
  • Secondly, realize that no matter what kind of difficulties you have in life right now they’re nothing in comparison to the ones Frankl had to go through and what the majority of the world is experiencing currently.
    • Did you get sad when the Internet went away and central heating shut off? Good – at least you’re not sleeping in the snow and still have a roof over your head.
    • Things are going tough and it’s difficult to continue? Good – you can condition yourself to become stronger and keep going.
    • Did you fail your recent project or intention? Good – make it better the next time.
    • Are you fighting with your spouse or a family member? Good – at least you still have them.
  • Thirdly, take full responsibility for your life and decisions. Own the fact that you’re the one responsible for everything you think, do and accomplish. Don’t complain, don’t get angry at others, don’t be frustrated, don’t get anxious – own it. Own the freedom to choose how you can react to any situation and then act accordingly.
  • Fourthly, have some greater purpose to pursue. It’s exactly this that allowed the prisoners to find meaning. We all should have something beyond ourselves for which to live – our family, a higher ideal, values or that same freedom of choice.

Holding that in mind – that vision – we can find strength to carry on even when things are tough. Then we can simply shrug off our suffering, be grateful and keep going because everything could be a lot worse.

Empower Your Meaning

I believe Frankl’s story can be very inspirational wherever you are in your life. But just remembering it won’t mean a thing by itself. You have to be able to take action and execute your purpose.

Get Man's Search for Meaning
Get Man’s Search for Meaning

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